Marketers always want to know "what will change?" But Amazon boss Jeff Bezos says a more important question is: "what won't change?" Why does what won't change matter more? Because as Bezos advises, you can build a business on ideas that won't change – ideas that are durable.
So with that thought in mind and as part of Stein IAS and The Drum’s recent B2B World Festival, senior leaders from LinkedIn’s B2B Institute hosted a pair of insight-led webinars examining the future of B2B marketing. In the first of the sessions, '2030 B2B Trends: Contrarian Ideas For The Next Decade', Jon Lombardo and Peter Weinberg, both Global Leads at The B2B Institute, highlighted three B2B “mega trends” for the next decade that fly in the face of conventional opinion.
Lombardo set the scene by explaining why marketers should worry less about what their competitors are doing and concentrate more on what their rivals are missing. He said: “Marketers always ask how is marketing going to change? What's the new thing? Is it AR? Is it VR? Personalization? Jeff Bezos argues that your focus should be on things they will remain stable over time, as you can build a business on factors that won’t change. That’s why we've identified three stable macro-trends in B2B marketing that you can count on for the next decade.
“For example, the ‘consensus opinion’ is that the future of B2B marketing is at the bottom of the funnel and focused on lead generation. The contrarian take, however, is that the biggest opportunity over the next 10 years is at the top of the funnel – that brand building is the future of B2B marketing.”
“Brand building creates value in ways that sales activation just can't match. Brands create pricing power, which is one of the most important tools a business has for growth. Branding also provides you with a durable competitive advantage that can’t be replicated easily by your competitors.”
On the contrary
Next, Weinberg tackled the industry’s consensus opinion around ‘test and learn’, ie doing small things to test out new ideas: “We would offer the contrarian take: it's not about small, it's about big; it's not about new, it's about old. The future is about big bets on old ideas.”
Pointing to the success of Disney’s franchise model and the predominance of blockbuster sequels and well-known character properties in the list of all-time most profitable films, Weinberg said: “Total merchandising essentially says, ‘Don't come up with new ideas; take old ideas or old IP and put it into new channels’.”
Finally, Weinberg explained why B2B marketers should reject the concept of hyper-targeting based on unsafe and misleading assumptions and, instead, focus on a broader concept of targeting by category: “The most underrated metric in marketing is called ESOV - Excess Share of Voice. You want more reach than your market share in order for your brand to grow. And if you want to be a category leader, you need category targeting. To influence the buyer, you need to reach the buyer. The more buyers you reach, the more sales you will get.”
Rise of the BETAs
In the second of LinkedIn’s digital panel sessions, 'Work in Beta: The Rising B2B Decision Makers', Ty Heath, Director of Market Engagement at LinkedIn’s B2B Institute, was joined by Jason Mander, Chief Research Officer of Global Web Index (GWI), and Lucie Greene, author and Founder of Light Years Consulting, to discuss recent trends within B2B decision-making revealed in new research by LinkedIn.
Heath kicked off the discussion by identifying the growing importance of a group known as the ‘BETAs’ – the first cohort of digital natives to assume positions of seniority in business. “Each letter signifies a characteristic of this group: ‘B’ – the line between their work and life is blurred; ‘E’ – Their identity is defined by personal brand and continuous self-evolution; ‘T’ – Technology has the biggest influence on their mindset; ‘A’ – Betas demand that brands act on social justice issues.”
Greene pointed to the growing clout of BETAs in B2B purchase decisions: “We’ve been looking at the ‘millennials’ as consumers for a long time, but never really considered their influence in the business space. The oldest millennials are now in their late 30s and rising-up the ranks of their organisations. They're having way more influence on B2B decisions and, crucially, they have very different attitudes to work and homelife than the generation that came before them.
“Key data points from recent GWI research revealed that 57% of betas are key influencers in identifying new business leads, 47% are responsible for approving purchases and 40% are stakeholders in testing new prospective vendors. What’s more, the Covid crisis has accelerated many of the trends that the BETAs are driving. The attitudes held by the BETAs – such as a desire for flexible working or the increased focus on conscious consumption – are only going to grow in importance over the next decade.”
Mander took time to drill further into the BETA mindset and explained why their differing attitudes from their predecessors are important to B2B marketers: “One clear example is that older professionals see more importance in cutting costs. BETAs, on the other hand, are more focused on innovation and keeping up with the competition. It matters that they're seen as current and contemporary. That, in turn, is influencing their research behaviours, where we see them looking for expert reviews and recommendations. When they suggest a bold choice to their own buying committee, they want a lot of proof to back it up.” Such proof comes in the form of a strong, trusted brand – further support for Lombardo and Weinberg’s earlier thesis that brand building is the future of B2B marketing.